Mon 14 Mar 2011
Why don’t people drink more Chateauuneuf-du-Pape? Unfamiliarity with the grapes and the geography perhaps? A strange sort of name, maybe? Limited availability? Bad marketing?
In any case, Chateauneuf-du-Pape — “the pope’s new castle” — deep in the southern Rhone Valley, north of Avignon, was the first wine region in France to be subject to rules of self-regulation, proposed in 1923 by Baron Le Roy of Chateau Fortia. The wine is unusual in that the red Chateauneuf-du-Pape may officially contain the juice of 13 grapes, though the reality today is that most renditions consist of grenache, syrah and mourvèdre. Traditional producers, however, often include dollops of the other permitted varieties, which include cinsault, muscardin, vaccarèse, picpoul, terret noir and counoise, as well as the white grenache blanc, clairette, bourboulenc and roussanne grapes. These white grapes also make the region’s rare Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, about 3 to 5 percent of the production.
During the so-called “Babylonian Captivity” of 1309 to 1378, the papacy moved to Avignon. Pope John XXII selected the village of Calcernier — not called Chateauneuf-du-Pape until the 19th Century when the wine began to gain renown — as the site of his summer palace, the ruins of which are seen in the accompanying image.
Today’s Wines of the Week are a red and a white Chateauneuf-du-Pape from Domaine Vieux Lazaret. Owned by the Quiot family, the domain is named for an ancient hospice for the poor and sick in the village of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, once operated by the Lazarists, a silent order of monks founded in 1625 by St. Vincent de Paul.
Tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event. Image of the pope’s summer palace from sablethouse.com.
The Domaine Vieux Lazaret Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc 2008 is a beautifully knit and bountifully spicy wine blended of 45 percent grenache blanc, 30 percent clairette, 20 percent bourboulenc and 5 percent barrel-fermented roussanne. One expects from the best Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc a seamless melding of roundness and lushness with lithe, spare elegance, a character this example provides in spades, along with bell-ringing acidity for crisp liveliness and a kind of vast, gradual unveiling of limestone-like minerality. Hints of peaches and pears, decked out with roasted almonds and a touch of almond blossom and some waxy floral element are supremely enticing; a few minutes in
the glass bring up notes of cloves, quince and ginger and touches of dusty dried herbs like thyme and marjoram. Well-made versions of these wines age well; drink this now with pleasure or let it develop more depth and dimension through 2015 to ’18. A lovely effort. Excellent. Prices around the country range from about $25 to $35.
Definitely needing time is the Domaine Vieux Lazaret Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge 2008, made from 67 percent grenache, 22 percent syrah, 5 percent mourvèdre and 6 percent of smidgeons of the 10 other grapes allowed in the wine by law. The wine ferments in concrete vats and then spends 18 months in large vats and foudres, meaning no new oak, no small barriques. The aromas form a seductive weaving of black and red currants, black raspberries and plums, potpourri, lavender and allspice, with fairly stark notes of briers and brambles, new leather and sandalwood. In the mouth, however, these sensual qualities fade out, and the wine leans more toward the dry, forest and underbrush nature of grainy tannins and the imposing flank of granite-like minerality; the finish is tight and austere, though the tannins are not the blunt, scorching tannins that afflict some renditions of red Chateauneuf-du-Pape. While you’re enjoying the Vieux Lazaret Blanc 2008, allow its rouge cousin to rest until 2013 or ’14, for drinking through 2018 to ’22. Excellent. Prices around the country range from about $24 to $36.
Imported by David Milligan Selections, Sagaponack, N.Y.